Sunday, February 18, 2018

How Contemporary Worship Is Changing Russia

September 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Going Global, Monthly Articles

This October I’ll make my fourteenth trip to Russia. Growing up I was taught that the Russians were only our enemies, no more, and that we must do everything to defeat them should war ever break out. I never dreamed
that as an adult I have the privilege and blessing of intimately getting to know hundreds of those people who I once thought were evil and hated me.

I soon discovered that all this time God was slowly doing a work through many dedicated believers willing to even give their lives for their Savior. And then when the country opened up in the early 90’s the church
began to flourish even more so that people like me could come and meet many within the body of Christ there.

Since then I’ve been privileged to teach, counsel, train, help build and grow relationships from Moscow to Siberia. And most recently members of our music and creative arts team along with others from the U.S. have started a worship conference in Moscow. Why?

It’s because thousands of Russians are eagerly listening to and wanting to utilize the contemporary worship music of the U.S., Australia and other countries. New churches are being raised up and old churches are changing to more effectively reach those who for years were told there was no God. The old methods, songs and dark songs of the church are being replaced by the Chris Tomlins, Lincoln Brewsters and even contemporary native musicians, singers and writers.

Hearing a room full of Christians who love Jesus there singing in praise to their God is a sound I will never forget.

However, one of the big problems is that when they hear a song they like, they often just write a translation of it that they like. And then someone else writes another and another and another. Often after a few revisions the song isn’t even the original song and much of its meaning has been lost. And even if they are able to keep the melody people will argue over which version they like or a different arrangement will be done from church to church or place to place.

So our conference and accompanying non-profit started by missionary Gerry Schroeder is overseeing the making of one common translation and arrangement along with demonstration charts and mp3’s that are available online for free. Churches all over Russia and in other Russian-speaking locales will have access to them.

In addition the conference will help worship leaders, musicians and singers to learn to play as a group, perform in a contemporary style and choose songs that enhance their services and worship, not just be performed. Because churches there are also wanting to be more creative, they need assistance with video, art, sound and other technical elements.

Amazingly God has also raised up some of the best teachers, musicians, composers and singers in the Christian music world to join us for our conferences and this is only our second. Most of the Russians do not know many of these people by name but they appreciate the fact that we’ve brought some of our best to teach them.

A second role we’re playing is to teach pastors there the importance of using the creative in their churches. While Russia has always been a purveyor of great music, ballet, art and the like, much of the church has left their creative legacy aside. So we’re trying to help church leaders to work together with their worship teams to craft services that are engaging, memorable and that connect in some ways to the artistic language of the people.

Much of the Russian church leadership simply thinks more is always better. We’re trying to help them learn that it usually is not. And thankfully many are understanding that no matter what country you’re in there are certain principles that always work. Yes, there are cultural differences that must be considered, but we focus on the axioms that are universal.

And of course we must always be sure we’re teaching and reinforcing the theology of worship, that whatever we do it must be for the glory of God. There can be no superstars. Our worship involvement must never be about us getting a career or becoming famous. So we spend much time just enjoying God and each other in our sessions together, getting to know Jesus better and letting His Spirit lead us.

We don’t know how long the doors will be open for us to continue to fellowship with our friends there. The country could close anytime. But we know this . . . we have made an investment in Russia that the Russian people are already multiplying as God’s kingdom grows. And because we’ve been able to be involved there for such a time as this, we too have been changed.

I don’t know what you and/or your church is doing to impact the world around you but I hope you might consider what God would have you do in a country like Russia. And you never know just what that involvement might look like. I know I never even thought I’d ever set foot in Russia but to now be teaching them about contemporary worship is an even greater surprise.

Nonetheless, I know we have a creative and powerful God with whom are no boundaries. See what He might have in store for you somewhere in the world.


Gary is a pastor, counselor and writer who has been the Director of Pastoral Care at Austin Christian Fellowship in Austin, TX since 2006. He has been married to Jackie since 1976, has two grown children and three grandsons. He loves the mountains too and has climbed ten of Colorado’s 14,000′ peaks.

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